While it's possible to enter the industry without any technical know-how, having some relevant engineering work experience can set you apart from the competition when applying for the most sought-after graduate jobs

Having the right qualifications is important for most engineering careers, but it'll rarely be enough on its own.

To be in with the best chance of securing a job you'll need some work experience, as employers favour those who've complemented the theoretical knowledge gained during their studies with relevant experience.

While some degrees in engineering and technology include a sandwich year, not all do so. Therefore, you may need to seek your own opportunities.

What are engineering internships?

Large organisations will typically offer paid engineering internships and industrial work placements to second and third-year university students and these are usually advertised on job sites as well as the employer's own website.

Internships are traditionally held during the summer break and last from a week up to three months, while industrial placements involve a year out from university and typically start during the autumn.

You'll find that small businesses may also run internships but this is where sending a speculative application can come in useful, as they may not always be as easy to find. Get more advice on how to ask employers for work experience.

Which companies offer internships and placements?

  • Airbus - provides 12-month industry placements in areas such as engineering, materials and processes and manufacturing engineering for defence and space or commercial aircraft.
  • Arup - summer internships and industrial placements from a few weeks to up to 12 months in areas such as structural and civil engineering.
  • BAE Systems - runs 12-week summer internship programmes in aerospace, electrical, mechanical and software engineering. You'll also find 12-month industrial placements in areas such as mechanical engineering, software engineering and naval architecture.
  • Boeing - both 12-week and 12-month internships are available with the aerospace and defence organisation in electrical, flight, industrial, mechanical and structural, and systems engineering.
  • EDF Energy - apply for a 12-month industry programme in mechanical engineering, research and development or nuclear safety and quality.
  • GSK - a year-long engineering industrial placement in automation, chemical, electrical or mechanical engineering.
  • Rolls-Royce - you can take part in either a 10-week summer internship or a 12-month internship in engineering and technology (held in Derby and Bristol).
  • Tesco - a 10-week technology software engineering summer internship held in Hertfordshire and London.

What other work experience opportunities are available?

In addition to its standard programmes, BAE Systems also offers two specialist insight experience opportunities.

These include a half-day insight event into model based systems engineering (MBSE) plus a two-day women in engineering experience.

With the former, you'll become familiar with the stages involved in the product lifecycle, and discover what it's like to work in various teams such as systems architecture or testing and integration.

At the women in engineering event you can:

  • listen to inspiring talks from influential female colleagues
  • attend personal and professional development sessions
  • discuss career pathways for female engineering students.

Read more about opportunities for women in engineering.

The Royal Academy of Engineering runs a Research Internships Scheme, funded by the Department for Science Innovation and Technology. Lasting from four to 12 weeks, students from underrepresented groups attending eligible universities - including the University of Exeter and the University of York - will get to work on some of the most challenging problems facing society.

Am I eligible?

To land a place on many highly-subscribed internship programmes, recruiters will ask that students are on course for a specific grade in a related subject.

For example, BAE Systems expects its summer internship students to be aiming towards a 2:2 degree in an engineering discipline. They also point out that the internship needs to be completed while you're still at university. Otherwise, you'll have to consider a graduate scheme instead.

Tesco also look for a 2:2 and while it doesn't have to be in computer science, you do need to be able to write coding for such a specialist programme.

EDF Energy seeks students with a predicted 2:1 undergraduate degree in a science, engineering, maths, IT or a business-related subject for its year-long work placement scheme.

To secure an internship with Rolls-Royce, again you'll need to be predicted a 2:1 at undergraduate level. This needs to be in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or maths) subject.

GSK also requires students with the following skills and attributes:

  • strong team player
  • excellent time management and organisation
  • highly analytical with good attention to detail
  • drive and always looking to improve
  • proficiency with Microsoft Word and Excel
  • qualities aligned with the company's values and expectations.

What do internships involve?

The majority of engineering summer internships provide an overview of what it's like to work for a leading engineering or technology firm. You'll gain practical experience through on-the-job training related to the nature of the role and the branch of engineering - for example, the work experience could be centred around aerospace or mechanical engineering.

With BAE Systems' software engineering internship you'll spend the 12 weeks getting involved with a number of areas so you can fully understand the software function of the business. You'll get a taste for creating cutting-edge software and will work closely with systems and electronic engineers to develop complex real-world systems.

On the other hand, those on the company's structural engineer programme will become familiar with the entire submarine life cycle, which includes activities with the operational fleet. Tasks may include the design, development and testing of various submarine products, components and systems.

By securing a place on Rolls-Royce's engineering summer internship, you'll be assigned to its civil aerospace, defence, central engineering, or central manufacturing operations. You could get to work on the innovation, architecture or design of products and systems, such as exploring sustainable flight.

At GSK, the electrical engineering internship involves solving day-to-day problems and breakdowns. You'll also get to lead on electrical projects, taking them from design through to implementation.

When and how do I apply?

This will depend on the duration of the programme and the individual company . Generally speaking, you'll typically apply in the autumn of the year before you plan to do the work experience.

For instance, second-year students can apply for the GSK industrial placement between September and December for a June to September start the following year.

At Boeing, the application period is from October to December for a June or July start date. This applies to both its 12-week and 12-month options.

The application process will also vary between employers. To apply for one of Arup's programmes, you'll need to progress through the following stages:

  • online application form
  • application review
  • psychometric and ability assessments
  • shortlisting
  • competency-based online assessment centre.

Get more advice on applying for jobs and read our interview tips in case you're asked to interview for the role, either online or in person.

How much can I earn?

As an intern, you can expect to receive at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for your age group. This currently (from April 2024) works out at £8.60 for 18-20 year olds and the National Living Wage (NLW) of £11.44 if you're 21 or over. For more information, see GOV.UK - NMW rates.

Be aware that many employers will pay more than this. Here's a selection of some of the salaries on offer from leading firms in 2024:

  • BAE Systems - £23,100 (pro rata).
  • Rolls-Royce - £20,500, plus a £300 relocation payment (pro rata for both programmes).
  • Tesco - £24,000 (pro rata).

How will the experience affect my job prospects?

Many companies offer permanent jobs to graduates who've performed well on their internship or placement schemes, so completing one can really pay off.

To discover the latest opportunities, search for work experience in engineering and manufacturing.

Find out more

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